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Proposed law would make Utah road rage an escalation to other crimes

Nov 16, 2023, 10:30 AM | Updated: Nov 17, 2023, 9:27 am

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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed change to Utah law is trying to curb road rage. The bill would make stiffer penalties for any crime committed as part of a road rage incident. The proposal was discussed during Wednesday’s Transportation Interim Committee.

According to the bill, a road rage event happens when an operator or passenger “escalates an incident on a roadway with the intent to endanger or intimidate” someone in another vehicle.

This bill wouldn’t create a new crime of road rage, it would allow any crime committed to be escalated as road rage with additional penalties.

“If you crash your car into the side of the road, the penalties are very minimal. But if you were trying to hit someone, and trying to endanger someone in another vehicle, that’s much more serious than an accidental crash of your car,” said sponsor Rep. Ken Cutler.

Cutler said that in working with prosecutors he chose to make road rage an enhancement crime, instead of its own crime, in order to address more moderate offenses. Cutler said enhancements allow tiers of offenses was the preference of law enforcement to capture what’s happening most on Utah’s roads.

First, you can lose your license.

The punishments? According to the proposed legislation on the first offense of a road rage enhancement, a judge can revoke your license.

For two offenses in one year, your license is automatically revoked on the second offense.

What if there’s a firearm involved?

If there’s a firearm involved, the penalties are stiffer.

In that case, police “shall seize and take possession of a vehicle when the division or the peace officer has probable cause to believe that an operator or passenger of the vehicle has engaged in a road rage event in which a firearm was used in furtherance of the road rage event,” the bill summary reads.

Vehicles that are seized, will cost $400 to get it back. For serious offenses or ones that include a firearm, cars could be impounded.

The definition and penalties would apply whether you’re in a truck, a truck tractor, a bus, or any other self-propelled vehicle.

What is considered probable cause for road rage?

When drivers see or are involved in bad driving behavior, perhaps someone flips them off, how do they know if that constitutes road rage?

“The intent is not to arrest people for expressing their opinions,” Cutler said.

In short, a crime would have to be committed first for it to be enhanced to road rage. For example, reckless driving could be enhanced if it’s during a road rage event.

Brought up in the committee, what if someone flips you off?

“That probably doesn’t apply,” Cutler explained.

Police, Cutler said, are trained in how to assess whether there’s probable cause.

When can police tow or impound?

On the first offense, police don’t have to tow or impound your car, but they can.

“The only time it’s mandatory is if there’s a firearm involved,” Cutler said.

A motor vehicle is a deadly weapon when it comes to aggravated assault

One other key change, defining an automobile as a deadly weapon.

Cutler said the intent is that a motor vehicle is a deadly weapon only in the case of aggravated assault.

“You can be charged with aggravated assault if you use your car as a deadly weapon in a road rage incident,” he said.

“We’re trying to narrow that so it’s in the scope of a road rage incident.”

Not everyone is sold on this bill. Rep. Jordan Teuscher said he agrees that road rage is a problem but said he was concerned that just enhancing penalties doesn’t change the behavior of drivers.

“When someone gets into that state, it’s their emotions, it’s their anger it’s everything else, that is driving them,” Teuscher said.

He also argued that penalties for bad driving behaviors already exist and that the definition of road rage “was too subjective.”

To that, Cutler said the bill was important to send a message that this is a serious issue.

Utah’s Department of Public Safety is also requesting $85,000 for an education campaign to target 16 to 39-year-old men, who they say is the key demographic “generally” committing the majority of road rage offenses.

Three members of the committee opposed the bill, but it passed with enough support to be considered a committee bill. It will be heard again by a committee in the 2024 general session.

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Proposed law would make Utah road rage an escalation to other crimes